Women, and notably rural women, have a central role to play in agriculture, rural development and food security. This is a key fact agriculture innovation systems (AIS) should take into account.
In spite of all traditional considerations and discrimination against, women feel progressively involved in key development areas such as food security and poverty alleviation, but this is not always without challenges.
Since 1990 after economic crisis and devaluation of FCFA (Central African CFA franc) in 1994, there is an emergence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), associations, and projects working on empowering rural women. We consequently observed that the number of women farmer organizations increased. A good thing, by itself, but our challenge was: how do we reach out to these women?
Why was that a challenge? I will explain with an example:
In West-Cameroon, a small village called “Nka’a” has about 1,500 inhabitants with 36 farmers organizations. Twelve of those are exclusively for women, each with an average of 25 members.
These 12 farmers organization are responsible of the production of 80-90% of food production in areas, notably: roots and tubers (cocoyam, yams, and cassava), grain (maize, beans), market garden (tomatoes, cabbage, celery, sweet pepper, leek and pepper). Men are exclusively involved in crops like coffee and produce about 80% of banana,
But even in this case, local traditions are not conducive in empowering or even informing women. In the same village where women produce most of the food, they are not allowed to speak publicly when men are present. Men are considered as the head of the family and have the last word in decision making.
Agriculture innovation systems therefore need to keep this into account. In this case, we work around the problem by using men to sensitize women and vice-versa. For example, when we want to popularize an agricultural innovation, men and women are trained separately. We first inform and train the men, encouraging them to send their women to a separate course. The trainer of the women is also a woman, which ensures their full and active participation.
And in their turn, we sensitize the women, to convince the men of the use and benefits of the innovation we want to introduce.